The creative engine-room.

I got the idea for this post from a UK TV short arts show that features writers and their workplaces. The get to speak of what inspires and why the stuff they surround themselves with is there. I found it interesting to compare, noting which writers I related to and which I didn’t. Eclectic and a bit arty – I’m there. Too disorganised I’m not. Too neat and I’m not there. Too methodical and office nine to five – no.

The images here show my work place. Please forgive me if this seems self -interested or egotistical. It could be those things and perhaps there are elements so it would be disingenuous to insist otherwise. We authors and I mean all published authors, Indie or otherwise, are in the business of selling, be it an idea, an image, an escape, a history, our stories, our celebrity – God forbid. We sell our work and therefore bits of ourselves.

So here is my version of that show – my creative engine room. Sorry, our creative room. My beloved ‘B’ shares it. We have a room across the hall from the study which is floor to ceiling books, we call it … the library. We do pass each other on the way in and out of there. Not all research is done on-line! Let’s start with the most pragmatic:

Wall 3.

Wall 3.

Storage, see it, yes, enough said.

Maps. Oh I do need maps, big see-it-all-at-once maps. Google earth has it’s place but I need the big picture. I need the scale that only big wall maps like these can give. One’s world view is given proper perspective when one can see it all and see what a tiny bit of it we each inhabit.

Cute cats are B’s thing. The big shelves in the corner, also seen in wall 1, is standard reference books, yea books again. Word’s spell checker and thesaurus are quick but limited. So dictionaries in several languages. The Oxford and Collins dictionaries are the most thumbed. I go for the OED while ‘B’ goes for the Collins. Also here, but not obvious, is my remote headphone station. I can plug this into the Macs and listen to iTunes or radio streams. Or more often when working, my iPod Nano and the play lists there. I listen mostly to classical when working. Lyrics get in my head and in the way. The beauty of the big remote headphones is: I can walk away and the music follows. Even up the drive to the post box or to the pond to peer at the fish. The range is about one hundred and fifty yards.

Wall 2.

Wall 2.

This is B’s work station. The big iMac suits her and she does a lot of printing and copying. There is a laser printer one side and inkjet/copy/scanner the other. The pin board is – a pin board. Stuff to remember and stuff to make us smile and feel the warmth of places and times important in our past.

The fishing boat model is there because I like it and I’m reminded of the heroics of those who go to sea to bring me the thing I love to cook and eat above all else – fish. Your are never far from the sea and a fishing boat anywhere in Ireland. Less than one hours drive in any direction.

To the right of the board on wall 1 – the big knives and the picture with medals are a sort of homage to my father. The picture is him just before the second world war, taken in East Africa.  He was under twenty and already a sergeant.  The big hooked knife is from Nepal. A Gurkha weapon called a Kukri. He fought against the Japanese and was sometimes attached to the Gurkha Rifles in northern India and Burma. The medals date from that time. That war was called the ‘forgotten war’ by those who fought it. It was overshadowed by events in Europe and later in the Pacific. It was a bloody viscous slog in unbearable heat in fearsome jungles. The Brits and Indians won. They beat the Japanese back the length of Burma – back down the road to Mandalay and Rangoon. The story of that war and my father’s role in it will be told in the last of history trilogy: ‘The Forgotten War.’

Wall 1.

Wall 1.

My bit. Such a lot here but let’s start at the window. The feathers and stuff is called a dream catcher and is a slightly tacky reproduction of the real First-Nation thing.  I had the real thing once.  I was given it when I was seventeen. It didn’t survive all the moving around I’ve done.

The art on the walls is by my daughter, Ria. They date from her student days.

My back catalogue is there on the table for two reasons: I refer to them sometimes to keep continuity on the last of the Daniel series I’m writing now: ‘Trial’. The other reason is … well, as I said we are all in the business of selling. You might like them and buy them?

‘Trial’ is also on screen on my Apple Powerbook. I’ve got it set up on a stand here with a keyboard and mouse but it does travel up-stairs to my bedroom.  The big Mac and screen is an elderly PowerMac G3. Huge capacity and used for storage, back up and visuals.  On top is model of an Italian icon called and Apé. A three wheeled utility of great charm. It features in a chapter of Pyramid. The globes on the window are actually jigsaws. A present to B who loved making them. Well that’s it, a tour of the engine room.

I hope you enjoyed nebbing and nosing in my workplace as much as I enjoyed the TV gawping version.

Whitepark Bay.


Whitepark Bay lies between the tourist hotspots of the Giants Causeway and the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. At one end of this beautiful sweeping bay, sheltered below the cliffs from the prevailing winds,  lies  the small fishing hamlet of Portbraddon and at the other end the basalt islands that surround Ballintoy harbour.

Whitepark Bay was one  of the first settlements of man in Ireland and evidence of these Neolithic settlers are continually being exposed  on the raised beach and sand dune system. It is known that the manufacturing and exporting of axes and arrow heads took place from here, the limestone cliffs being a rich source of  flint nodules. Three passage tombs stand on the high points of surrounding hills overlooking the bay, the most striking being the dolmen known as the Druid’s Altar which was placed on the highest point above the bay.

The old hostel.

The original White Park Bay Youth Hostel can be seen in the middle of the bay. Beyond, almost buried now, are the remains of an old ‘hedge school’. This 18th Century ‘school for young gentlemen’, included on its roll call – a certain Lord Castlereagh for his early education years. What a location for a school! The modern youth hostel has a commanding position overlooking the bay. (More of that later)

A hedge school (Irish names include scoil chois claí, scoil ghairid and scoil scairte) is the name given to an educational practice in 18th and 19th century Ireland, so called due to its rural nature. It came about as local educated men began an oral tradition  of teaching the community. With the advent of the commercial world in Ireland after 1600, its peasant society saw the need for greater education. While the “hedge school” label suggests the classes always took place outdoors (next to a hedge), classes were sometimes held in a house or barn. Subjects included primarily basic  Irish language  grammar , English and maths. In some schools the Irish bardic tradition, Latin, historyand home economics  were also taught. Reading was generally based on chapbooks chapbooks, sold at fairs, typically with exciting stories of well-known adventurers and outlaws. Payment was generally made per subject, and brighter pupils would often compete locally with their teachers.

On personal note: Whitepark is significant to me because it’s where I was living when my daughter was born. She spent the first six months of her life there. At the time I was warden of the YHANI Youth Hostel. It has changed hugely since then. Much extended and now in different ownership, it is more a hotel like than the simple back packers hostel I managed. I spent an idyllic time living there. I used to go down to the dunes early in the mornings to hunt the rabbits which were very numerous. I had my dog, Pod and a shotgun.  We got fairly sick of eating rabbit but Pod never tried of it and would often bring a young rabbit home for me to peel. She didn’t like the fur in her teeth. Sheep used to graze in the dunes. That has now been stopped so the flora of the bay has also changed. Wild flowers are now beautifully abundant.

We kept a goat and she produced great milk which was used to make ‘Soda Farls’, an Irish specialty bread made on a griddle or hot plate. Fresh soda off the griddle and dripping with butter was a great seller as breakfast for the hostellers. Maude the goat, had to go when the Belfast middleclass members of the hostel association decided that they wanted their ‘private retreat’ to have a rose garden and prim lawn. They didn’t like the rural reality, come to think of it, they didn’t like school children or strangers from abroad in their hostel.

This is one of the few places that gets no mention in any of my novels. I think I’ve avoided it because it’s a place that’s filled with both happy and painful memories. I’ve felt unable to share it – unitil now.

When the chairman who appointed and supported me left, my time there was over. I left and left Northern Ireland too. I had no intention of raising my daughter in that beautiful but troubled place. As an adult, she choose to return to her roots and now lives near Belfast.

B and I spent a lovely day poking about the bay and found a few interesting visitors.  The Goose barnacle encrusted tree must have come all the way from the Mediterranean where they are native. There they are called Percebes and are a great delicacy. They have festivals devoted to them in Galicia. I suppose the tree may have come all the way over the Atlantic from Canada where they are also abundant.

The other visitor was Helge Mast from Leonberg in Germany. He was driving the splendid Unimog world tour van shown here. He’d traveled the length of North and South America in it and was now doing Europe.  I used to have an ambition to do this and to have such a splendid vehicle but I find driving such a chore now, I couldn’t face it.